Syrian Opposition Coalition expels 14 members in bid for 'reform'
The Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), the country’s largest opposition body, has shook up its membership this week and passed a number of reforms.
On Sunday, Salem al-Meslat, the head of the SOC, announced the expulsion of 14 members from the SOC and the changing of the governors of several provinces in Syria. A few days later, al-Meslat dissolved four blocs within the SOC, reassigning two of their leaders as independent members while leaving the remaining two out of the opposition body.
“We were seeking to revive the [SOC] through the amendments of the system, and prove that reform is not impossible,” al-Meslat said during a press conference on Friday.
“These reforms were not taken suddenly, they were discussed for the last nine months,” he added.
The flurry of reforms sparked questions about the unity of the SOC.
"The SOC has faced heavy criticism in recent years for not helping ordinary Syrians and not progressing the negotiations with the regime. It has largely lost the confidence of even opposition-aligned Syrians who see the SOC as out of touch with the situation in Syria"
Sources within the SOC told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that in general, there is a sense of growing factionalism within the opposition body. Divisions are exacerbated by a mounting frustration over the lack of effectiveness of the SOC.
The changes and expulsion of members also had procedural goals. According to Ayman Abd al-Nour, a Syrian political analyst and president of Syrian Christians for Peace, the changes were made to “clear obstacles to reform.”
He said that most of the members who were removed were expelled because they were not taking their duties in the SOC seriously. Others were booted out because they were a hindrance to al-Meslat’s attempts to reform the body.
The SOC has faced heavy criticism in recent years for not helping ordinary Syrians and not progressing negotiations with the regime.
It has largely lost the confidence of even opposition-aligned Syrians who see the SOC as out of touch with the situation in Syria.
The SOC was founded in the early days of the revolution in 2012. It’s s tasked with representing the Syrian opposition internationally and it is heading the opposition’s efforts in the UN Constitutional Committee.
The Committee is meant to draft up a new constitution in cooperation with a regime delegation and is a key element of the UN-mandated political transition for Syria.
However, despite three years of meetings, there has been virtually no progress on a new constitution nor does the SOC have any substantive achievements under its belt.
Al-Meslat has been keen to pass reforms to make the body more relevant since he assumed office, Suhail al-Ghazi, a Syrian researcher, told The New Arab. He has faced opposition within the body while attempting to do so.
The members who were expelled this week will most likely be replaced by opposition figures from within Turkish-controlled areas in Syria, al-Ghazi explained.
However, he said this week’s reforms and membership shuffle would not lead to major changes but instead were “like moving around chess pieces”.
“You are just replacing corrupt people with more corrupt people. Syrians look at this as if it’s a comedy. This is not what they want,” al-Ghazi added.
“Something which would actually be positive would be see more alliances with the opposition, such as with the Cairo platform, the National Front for Democracy … This would be much better when it comes to negotiations with the regime,” al-Ghazi said.
In addition to passing reforms, the SOC leadership is also seeking to weaken the influence of its Muslim Brotherhood (MB) wing, according to Abd al-Nour.
The MB bloc of the SOC has traditionally enjoyed Ankara’s support, but with the recent rapprochement between Ankara, Abu Dhabi and now Riyadh, Turkey is looking to downplay the Islamist role in the SOC.